In the States, I was used to having a fresh supply of produce like apples and strawberries year round. In Romania, out of season produce is more difficult to find, so if it’s not in season, I tend to go without it. But what I’ve come to enjoy about being stuck with seasonal food is becoming festive about the change in climate. In summer, I look forward to the time when I can make apple cobblers with the abundance of sweet, round Romanian apples tumbling from a market shelf, and when the world is grey with slush and overcast skies, the first strawberries of the season become my first sign of spring.
For me, New Year’s was always a mediocre second-fiddle to Christmas; an arbitrary holiday with no real meaning where I drank alcohol with loved ones as we all watched the dropping of a ball and the calcification of a TV presenter.
But in Romania, New Year’s is a big deal. It’s a night where you go out with your friends and loved ones dressed to the nines and paint the town red. It’s not about inebriation — at least, it’s not only about inebriation — but about ending the old year and starting the new in style, surrounded by those you love, and having a blast. Celebrating the end of an old year with the zest you want to pass on to the next one. This attitude is infectious and makes it hard to be a homebody on New Year’s Eve.
Did you grow up watching Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, and The Powerpuff Girls? So have scores of Romanian kids, who now adults and around my age. Only they watched them in English with Romanian subtitles after a day of rote-learning English grammar and vocabulary at school. As a result, many Romanian Millennials speak English, often in addition to other languages they may use when working abroad or for multinationals based in Romania.
As a professional slacker and a native English speaker, learning new languages has never been my strong suit. I’d dabble, learn a few phrases, become “too busy to practice”, then let it fall by the wayside. I’d occasionally feel a bit guilty, but I’d get over it soon enough. But in Romania, surrounded by a people where almost everyone of working age knows at least functional in one additional language, I feel like a loser. And as encouraging as my Romanian colleagues are in helping me with my Romanian, I can’t help but hear an unspoken “Oh, really?” when they learn that I only speak English and my Romanian is horrible.
Because of their rural heritage, many Romanians care about where there food comes from and who profits from its sale. They see imported food as not only a lost opportunity for individual rural people to make a decent living, but as a situation that needs to change in order to improve Romania as a whole. Romania is a country rich in natural resources, agricultural resources included. Ironically, they import a great deal of food that could be easily produced at home. This is a sore point with Romanians – while most Romanians live in cities, many are only a few (if any) generations away from living in the countryside.
If a Romanian is complaining about the overabundance of imported food, expect a gripe over the proliferation of big box stores to follow shortly after. Choosing the supermarket over your local neighborhood produces market is basically supporting large-scale agriculture over small farmers. And ethics aside, there’s nothing that beats the personal touch of going to your neighborhood market, where the sellers know you on sight and are more than happy to bluntly correct your Romanian or throw in an extra strawberry if you look like you’re having a bad day.
I learned that through a combination of deep historical roots and state intervention, Orthodox Christianity is often a significant part of the Romanian identity. People might not discuss it openly (or spread the good word in the form of bumper stickers, or knocking on your door like they do back in the USA) but why should they have to? It goes without saying that most of their fellow countrymen are at least nominally Orthodox anyway. Plus, like in much of the rest of the world personal views on politics and religion generally to be considered just that — personal.
There have been dramatically fewer stray dogs in Bucharest, where I live, since a neuter program and the implementation of North American-style animal control centers (which includes both adoption and, yes, euthanasia). That being said, I do see them from time to time and they do occasionally bite people. As soon as I arrived I learned that a colleague of mine had been bitten so badly she had to go to the hospital. Later that year, there was a flurry of outrage when a small child was viciously attacked by dogs in one of the nicest parks in the city.
I still love dogs. But I get a little nervous when I see a stray dog without knowing whether or not she’s people-friendly.
While there are an increasing number of health food stores and restaurants catering to vegetarians and vegans in Romanian cities, Romanian cuisine relies heavily on meat: cured, roasted, or — my favorite — grilled with a side of mustard, washed down with a pint of beer. Vegetarians of Romania must have wills of steel to resist the ubiquitous and awesome animal flesh and deal with their family harping on about why they won’t eat the Easter lamb every year.
Romania has the fastest internet in the EU. I pay 12 USD a month for mine. ‘Nuff said.
Despite technological encroachment, Romanians of all ages still read for fun. While many people read on Kindles and tablets, hard copies of books are still popular. Booksellers in markets spread out their wares of cheap old paperbacks, translations of international bestsellers are available at newspaper stands, and there are even vending machines for books at the metro station. Romanian bookstores like Cărturești routinely make it onto the Top-10 lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. While I still have a Kindle, living in Romania has reignited my pleasure in browsing books in real life — not to mention that old-book smell.
In general, Romanians tend to be much more direct than people from English-speaking countries and if they don’t think the customer is right, they won’t mince words when they tell you to your face. If it really is a problem on their end, don’t expect the person you’re dealing with to avoid sighing dramatically when you ask for confirmation that your late order really ison its way.
It only took one instance of my neighbor blasting this monstrous cacophony at 2am for me to realize what my Romanian colleagues, students and friends said was completely true: Manele is ear cancer.
Romania has not had an easy history, but one full of invasion, occupation, struggles, and strife. Perhaps because of this, Romanians don’t expect what they want to come without a fight — whether that fight is hard work, intensive study, aggressive driving, or revolution. As a former pampered, American middle-class kid, this was a lesson I needed in my early adulthood, and one I will always have Romania to thank for.